Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August Riddle of the Month and Prize Sketch

Greetings, from Patreon!

For those unawares, I've started running a Riddle of the Month challenge over on Patreon. Basically, each month, anyone who pledges $1 or more has the opportunity to win a prize sketch by solving that month's riddle first. 

August was the first time I've run this challenge officially, so now that it's over, I'm sharing the riddle (for those of you who just enjoy riddles), solution, and the prize sketch.

August's Riddle:
A touchy temperament with a long, forked tail,
I take what I’m given and toss it back.
If you’re not careful, I’ll turn it black!

(Scroll to the end for the answer)


My mother, Caprice Gifford, solved the riddle first. She also does some amazing jewelry work. Check out her group on FB if you're into that sort of stuff.

She requested a color sketch of The Sir and me manning the boat with creatures on-deck and in the water as her prize sketch (click to enlarge, hi-res is over on Patreon):


September's Riddle of the Month Challenge will be kicking off in just a few days!

Riddle Solution:
A Toaster


Monday, August 15, 2016

A Candid Review of Thinx Period Panties for Pad Users

If you happened to have a vagina and were on the internet several months ago, it's likely you were spammed with social media posts and targeted ads about a product claiming to revolutionize how periods are dealt with. That, or all of their targeted marketing just hit me. Regardless, it was money well spent on their part, because after some preliminary research and encouragement from The Sir, I decided to buy 3 pairs of Thinx period panties and give it a whirl.

For Any Guys Reading This: Thank you for reading! The fact that you're taking the time and interest to learn about something that doesn't directly impact you is awesome. So, please stay tuned, keep an open mind, and get ready to learn!

The Incredibly Quick Review

Thinx are a well constructed product that do exactly what they claim to do on their site. These are not a replacement for pads or tampons, and while their advertised application is as a product to be used in conjunction with tampons, they are perfectly suitable for use on light days. I purchased Thinx out of personal interest in the product and was not supplied with review materials by the company. I tried the Hiphugger, Sport, and Cheeky styles in a size small. For reference, I wear a size 5 in Hanes cotton bikini underwear. The hiphuggers had the most comfortable fit and felt the most useful for overall wear. 


Now, for you Discerning Readers

A Little Bit About Me

Prior to seeing all of these ads for Thinx, I was unaware that period panties existed. I was only aware of tampons and pads and forms of birth control that reduced the frequency of periods. I shared some of my initial experience with Thinx on my facebook page and friends brought up several other products that also help with managing periods. These included the Diva Cup (a Menstrual Cup ) and Cloth Menstrual Pads. Despite what mainstream media and advertising would have you think, there are several options out there. This entry is mostly a product review for Thinx, which may not suit your needs.

As for my personal situation,  I normally use pads. I only use tampons when absolutely necessary, as I find shoving high-tech cotton balls up there to be extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient. I also tend to have a light day, maybe one or two really heavy days and then several light days afterwards. I'm not currently on any sort of birth control, thanks to a tubal ligation. For me it was a godsend, as I don't cope well with the side effects of hormonal birth control and have no interest in having children. That said, I believe my body may be less predictable than one on standard birth control might be. 

Sometimes, my body will decide to kick things into gear up to a week earlier than scheduled, or to wait a few extra days. I like to imagine that some women have well-behaved vaginas that politely sleep through the night and do their business on a routine schedule between the hours of 9-5 during a 3-5 day window with the predictability of automated bill-pay. The reality that I've dealt with is that on particularly crappy days I end up sleeping horribly and waking myself up in the middle of the night to make sure that nothing has shifted out of place. 

For the guys reading through this out of curiosity, if you've never had the pleasure of hosting female reproductive organs of your own, here's a little blurb about how periods and PMS in general work. Every time I talk about this stuff to a guy, they usually end up learning something new. First off, every woman has different experiences. So, what I say here is not a blanket set of rules that applies to everyone - it is one example. The terms PMS and period are often used interchangeably and incorrectly, even by women (please don't take this as license to correct them with your newfound knowledge). These are actually two different but related things. PMS, or Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, takes place before the period, or menstruation. Some of the symptoms overlap. PMS is an official medical disorder that people are actually diagnosed with. I've never been diagnosed (I don't think it's common to actually get a diagnosis on this), but I predictably have moodswings and am more emotional during the "PMS" timeframe of 1-2 weeks prior to my period, even when my period shows up a week early. Nothing quite like having an amazingly shitty day and then realizing why two days later. During the period itself, I experience the obvious bleeding, accompanied by at least one day of pretty severe cramps. There are some other fun symptoms that can hit - bloating, constipation, diarrhea, basically anything that makes you feel like crawling under a rock and calling it a day. Aside from the pain being somewhat mentally and physically exhausting on that day, though, I'm usually much more emotionally upbeat than normal during my period.

Fun Fact: Commenting that a woman "must be on the rag" when she's having a bad day not only sounds awful, there's a good chance that it's totally incorrect. If her attitude is even related to mood swings caused by PMS, she wouldn't even be on her period yet. Granted, many women also have general mood swings or may be in substantial pain while menstruating, which may impact demeanor. All that said, I would put down money that most "bad moods" occur for reasons completely unrelated to periods, just like most bad moods experienced by the opposite gender.


Some Numbers for Thought 

On a whim several years ago, I decided to try using Always' Infinity pads after having generally brand-hopped based on price. They're on the pricey side for pads (you get a box of 36 for somewhere in the order of $8 in the Seattle area). That's about $.22/pad. You can find pads much cheaper (down to something like $.07/pad). However, the Infinity pads are light, they hold A LOT, and they mostly stay put. Even on my worst days, which are probably not as bad as some, a regular pad will hold its own for a few hours. I occasionally use the overnight ones, but if I happen to be laying at the wrong angle, they don't always get everything. To be perfectly honest, I've pretty much have zero patience for my vagina trying to wreck my day, and in the fight against the red tide, I'm willing to pay the price for quality equipment.

Let's say I burn through 6 pads a day on my 2 worst days, and 3 pads a day average on my light days, which stretch out for 5 days. That's 27 pads, or about $5.94 a month, or $71.28 annually. Then, let's throw in a cotton pair of underwear that gets stupidly stained during the course of a year and a few panty liners and we'll call it $75 + 10% sales tax for a total of $82.50 as an annual maintenance fee for parts of my reproductive system that will never be used.

Looking at Thinx, prices range from $29-$34 a pair. I'm not counting thongs, because for the way I'm using them, that's just silly. If you buy 3 or more pairs, you start getting discounts from 10% on up. On your first order, you get free shipping. 

My First Order: 
Black Hiphugger
Beige Hiphugger (because why the hell not?)
Black Sport

Total: $90  - shipped free as a first order

My Second Order:  (Ordered one month later, and with a $10 off discount for a friend using my referral code, but had to pay $5 shipping).
Black Hiphugger x2
Black Cheeky

Total: $82.30

Total Thinx Investment, To Date: $172.30  
That's a bit painful to look at, honestly, but bear with me.

Since fully incorporating Thinx into my toolbox (see below), I use about a fifth as many pads as I did previously. So, my annual investment in pads has dropped to roughly $17.50 a year. Assuming that my six pairs of panties can hold up for three years (that's 36 wearings per pair), I'll have already saved $25 by the end of year three. So, that's a pretty long game, but also completely ignores the non-monetary values of the product.


The Products

For all of the styles I've tried, the construction is similar. All have a 95% cotton black liner sewn in, and the exterior is a satiny, primarily nylon blend. To that note, I would keep them miles away from velcro. I'm pretty sure it would turn the exterior of these into a frizzy mess in about 3 seconds. Likewise with the lace - it's well made, but requires some minimal caution. They are all slightly thicker and heavier than normal cotton underwear, especially in the areas where they have absorbent material. However, they are by no means bulky. 

Hiphugger

The Hiphugger appears to be Thinx's flagship product. These are touted as holding two tampons worth of blood and are positioned immediately next to the dropdown when shopping. All of the Thinx products that I have ordered were well-made with good stitching and are generally stylish, but for me, these take the cake. They are more comfortable than my normal underwear, and they probably look better, too. This, coming from someone who avoids lace at all costs. But, more importantly than that, they have absorbent material all the way up the back (it gets thinner towards the top). The seams show the different areas of coverage. So, if you're looking for something you can wear and sleep in relatively worry free, these are wonderful.

To check out the different styles on an actual model, head on over to the Thinx website. 




Sport

The Sport design looks cute and I'm a huge fan of the less lacy design. They're designed to hold 1.5 tampons worth of blood, according to the site, so I planned to use these for light days at the very beginning or end of my period. The leg holes go quite far up, and definitely allow for mobility, as described (though I didn't ever feel restricted in the Hiphuggers). My only complaint with these is that they seemed prone to wedgies. I'm not sure if this is just my body type or something else. To me, they're just slightly less comfy than the Hiphuggers, and also don't have absorbent coverage all the way up the back, though they go decently far forward and back.




Cheeky

These are very similar to the Hiphuggers, but don't cover as much on the backside. They have lace on all openings, rather than just on the top. Like the Sport, these are unfortunately prone to wedgies for me as well. And, like the sport, they don't have absorbent coverage all the way up the back - these really only cover your crotch.




To Beige or Not to Beige?

Panties I'm meant to bleed on? Yeah, let's get those in a light skin tone, what could possibly go wrong?

Call it morbid curiosity, but I decided to get a pair of beige colored underwear in my first batch. I don't even like beige, but I figured that if they were going to offer it, I should give it a shot. They're actually very nice, and slightly more embellished than the black ones, with a little scalloped edge running around the edges and nice zig-zagged stitches. When I got my first batch, I was putting them to the test. Anyways, needless to say, I got blood on them.  And not just a little bit. I got enough blood on them that it seeped into the nice little scalloped edges and down onto the underside (but only left a tiny splotch on the inside of my jeans).

So, I rinsed them, a lot. And the blood came out, almost entirely. Except in the nice little scalloped edges, where I could see a tiny discoloration because I knew exactly where to look. I was slightly disheartened, but not surprised. It didn't come out after the first wash. I wore them again next month, and washed them again, and they actually cleaned up flawlessly. I got blood on them on a later occasion, and again, they cleaned up entirely. No special cleaners, just water and some tide in the laundry.

The Verdict: If you want a lighter color, get the beige! They are definitely stain resistant, and that's only if you expect to be testing them to their limits.

Putting the Panties through their Paces

Armed with three pairs of Thinx and abundant overconfidence, I decided to give things a whirl. Having heard horror stories of blood torrents, I figured my period qualified as moderate at its worst. And, not having used tampons with any regularity, I had no context for the Hiphugger's two tampon capacity. So, I tucked a spare pair of underwear in pouch with some pads, threw on my Thinx, and went to the office. And then, all hell broke loose in my pants. 

For some reason, my vagina thought the best way to welcome these new underwear to my wardrobe was by way of unrelenting aggression. Within an hour, I realized I had horribly underestimated the sort of day it was going to be. I occasionally ducked over to the bathroom to discreetly check how things were going, and by midday, I had to swap over to the backup panties. Some blood had wicked up into the hemming and seeped underneath. My pants had a slight patch of red on the inside that thankfully didn't bleed through. 

Foolishly assuming that my body would calm down for day two, I basically had a repeat of day one, but this time in beige. 

On the third day, my vagina played dead, as it likes to do to lull me into a false sense of security. I threw on the Sport design and had no issues. Some light spotting was wicked away effortlessly, and it felt like a perfectly normal day, aside from the occasional wedgie. 

What I loved from my first, albeit limited, experience with Thinx (especially on the third day) was the ability to feel like it was just another day. There wasn't a moisture sucking strip stuck to my underwear reminding me that it was that time of the month. I didn't need to make sure I tucked a spare pad into my pocket before heading to the bathroom at work or make sure the stash in my backpack hadn't run out. On the first two days, when I was bleeding heavily in them, yeah, I could feel that there was blood in there, but overall it was more comfortable than wearing a pad, minus the slight anxiety, not knowing the full limitations of the product. On the light day, it was effortless.

The next month, I gave it another run. I tried swapping out Thinx during the day to see if I could just rely on period panties, rinse, and rotate. It wasn't particularly effective. Going through 3 pairs of underwear in a day is probably not that practical for the average person, though it was a fun experiment. I tried out the Cheeky pair on my light days, and while they were effective, wedgies struck again. 

The optimal strategy that I've come to on my third month using the product is to wear the Cheeky or Sport (or Hiphuggers) on light days. For heavy days, I'll put on a pair of Hiphuggers with a pad, and swap out pads until late afternoon. So now, I'm only using pads for about 3 days out of my cycle. 

So far, the Hiphuggers have worked splendidly for overnight wear. I've been able to wear them overnight without pads after a day of heavy flow and not had to worry at all. If my body were being particularly ornery late into the night, I might put a pad on, but so far I haven't needed to.

Caring for your Thinx

There's information about this on Thinx's website and packing materials, but I figured I'd include it here for full disclosure. As part of the care, you're supposed to rinse them after use. This is fairly straightforward and only takes a few minutes, but I have noticed that they need to be rinsed very thoroughly. When you first start rinsing them, they'll run clear as they just soak everything up. You have to fully saturate them before they actually rinse out. Make sure you've rinsed them thoroughly and squeeze them out several times to test, or they can leave discolored drips as they dry. 

The End Result

I've been very happy with Thinx so far, and so far as I'm concerned, these are a great opportunity for pad users, even if it isn't their intended function. I imagine they'd also be a nice addition for the routine tampon user. 

They're liberating, they look good, and while they're not an end all, be all, one-stop shop to make your period perfect, they're definitely a step in the right direction. Now we just need tampons that magically stop cramps. Please get on this, you entrepreneury types.

Heck, if you needed one more reason to consider this product, the people who run it are also sending part of the proceeds to help Ugandan women via AfriPads. And, if you don't have a vagina yourself, but are in a communicative relationship with someone who does, I highly recommend talking to your partner about this sort of stuff. Basically, anything that can be done to remove the stigma and make it not weird to talk about something that impacts half of the population would be awesome. 

Thanks for reading! If you have questions that I might be able to answer, comments, or requests for new blog entries that you'd like to see, please don't be a stranger.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Suddenly Sailing - From Sea to Sea

We're now moved aboard Blackthorn, a 32 foot (39 with bowsprit) gaff-rigged steel cutter. We share the pleasure with her dinghy, May. The whole process has been at times enthralling, terrifying, and involved a whole lot of waiting, paperwork, and money changing hands. Last I wrote, I was afraid to write anything too specific about the boat that had caught our eyes because there were so many maybes up in the air and I was worried that someone else would catch wind and buy it out from under us. 

We are now living on one of two (to my knowledge) Wylo II's currently located on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, more specifically in the Pacific Northwest.


Finding Blackthorn

After fruitlessly sifting through countless boat designs and surfacing nothing Sir-Approved, I took to googling. After a number of searches involving the words "steel", "gaff" and "sloop", I came across the Wylo II, designed by Nick Skeates (The boat is actually a cutter and not a sloop because it has a bowsprit and an extra sail up front, but I had no idea of that until fairly recently). I showed it to The Sir, and it piqued his interest. Given how things had been progressing, this was a major breakthrough. He dived in and researched, and researched, and researched some more, while I kept up my day job.

The boat was designed to be simple, sturdy, and capable of going just about anywhere. The designer had built the first Wylo II as a replacement after his first boat was run aground on a reef. He sold the design as a boat that could be built and maintained reasonably - a modern vessel with a classic appearance. All of this resonated with the Sir, and the more he read about Nick Skeates' design and the voyages of Wylo II's that had been built since, the more enthused he was about it. 

The first roadblock we hit was that very few Wylo II's had been built, and none of them were anywhere near Washington state. The only one we could find for sale was in the UK. That didn't stop me from scouring every yacht listing site I could find. Somewhere along the line, I stumbled across a yahoo group for Wylo II owners (and enthusiasts, it turns out). I asked to join the group and was added on shortly after. In the recently posted messages, I discovered that a couple from the UK had posted a few weeks earlier about their plan to sail their Wylo II back to the UK from Virginia early next year and sell it. 

So, we jumped on the opportunity and got in touch. Emails got eaten by spam filters and anxiety abounded, but we got in touch with Robin and Jackie and learned that they were not only incredibly kind and reasonable people, but that they were open to us learning more about their boat, Blackthorn, and making an educated decision on whether or not it would be a good fit for us. 

We sent every question that came to mind their way, always after doing some preliminary research to try and avoid sounding overly stupid. Initially, I was the primary composer of said emails, The Sir being a bit timid in dealing with strangers and I recently having come from a production job where an unfortunate amount of my time was tied up with writing concise and polite correspondence.

Logistically, things got very complicated. We needed to get over to see the boat before they planned on sailing it back to the UK. They wanted to continue their preparations for an Atlantic crossing so that they could proceed if we didn't decide to buy it. We needed to figure out how we'd get the boat home if we did buy it and coordinate around each other's obligations and the fact that they would not be back in Virginia with the boat until late March. We also needed to time our visit so that we could be present when it was surveyed - More on that in a bit. We spent a lot of time emailing back and forth, and eventually "met" them via a Skype call that happened to fall during the Seattle Boat Show. 

A quick aside about the Seattle Boat Show. 
We bought tickets to the boat show expecting that a lot of what we'd find wouldn't apply to us - we weren't rich yachties interested in the latest gadgets and technologies. No boat that they'd have at the show would be within our budget or likely even appeal to us. We did want to check out the seminars, though. There were quite a few interesting talks listed, including one about living without refrigeration, which turned out to be very applicable to our current day-to-day.

Robin and Jackie could do a skype call with us at a time that fell right in the middle of the boat show. They were traveling a lot, and due to the time zone difference, opetions were limited. Going home during the show to take the call would block out three seminars that we were interested in. So I wrote an email to the staff of the Seattle Boat Show, asking them if they could give me access to an ethernet cable and a quiet room for an hour. This is an enormous trade show with thousands of attendees. And really, they had no reason to accommodate us or give us any special treatment. But, they did. They gave us access to a little media cart on a balcony with an ethernet cable, and were just generally helpful and friendly. So, my deepest gratitude goes out to Katie Groseclose and her team at the Seattle Boat Show, who made a hugely positive impression on the two of us.

Needless to say, we got to meet Robin and Jackie via Skype for the first time, and it was an encouraging experience. The Sir and I were incredibly nervous and it was a huge relief to see that they were just another couple (actually, an extraordinary and inspirational couple) at a different stage in their lives. Throughout this whole process, all of the asking questions, doing research, and relying on the goodwill of others, it had continuously put us in a very vulnerable position. We were doing something big and risky, and while we were doing our best to make responsible decisions, there are countless ways that things could have gone wrong.

In April, we took an 11 day trip to Virginia. This was as much time as I could reasonably take off of work and still accommodate my other obligations. We spent our first few days getting to know Robin and Jackie better as we learned about the boat's different systems and some of the maintenance. During our time in Virginia, we slept aboard their incredibly cozy 60's tour bus at the yacht club, where the small membership was exclusively older men who'd occasionally wander over to chat with us young'uns. There was also a stalwart, lone Canadian goose whom Jackie had aptly christened Goosie No-Friends.

Blackthorn, sitting at her slip in Virginia.

Robin showing Zack the ropes... You see what I did there?

A proper rebel.

While in Virginia, we sailed up to Hampton and spent the night before returning. Shortly after, Blackthorn was hauled up out of the water at the boatyard next door and surveyed. Much like a house gets an inspection as part of the sales process, a boat is typically gone over by a surveyor. This identifies potential problems and is generally used to establish a value. Robin and Jackie had planned to have a survey prior to their Atlantic crossing, regardless, and so had sought out a very reputable steel boat surveyor. We watched as he went over Blackthorn, inside and out, inspecting every inch of the hull that he could gain access to - and the engine, the electrical systems, and so on. His examination revealed a number of minor issues, but fortunately, nothing critical. 


Blackthorn on a Travel Lift.


During the visit, we also began creating a "manual" for Blackthorn, photographing and documenting the boat systems in a google doc for our future reference. This is a living document that we're still updating. It's already proved its worth a few times, especially since there was a long period of downtime between us seeing Blackthorn over in Virginia and Blackthorn's eventual arrival in Seattle.

Needless to say, we were very happy with what we saw during our time in Virginia. The boat has character, and a soul. It isn't flawless, and it's not effortless to maintain, but it's a vessel that can cross an ocean (and has). And, of course, we'll be learning about it for years to come. Despite our inexperience, we earned Robin and Jackie's blessing - which we were quite concerned about. The couple had purchased the hull and transformed it from a steel form into a sailing vessel over the course of several years. It isn't an understatement to say that Blackthorn was, and in a sense, always will be, their baby.  Now, The Sir and I have assumed responsibility for her care and putting her to use doing what she was made to do. 

We decided to go ahead with buying Blackthorn, and had tentatively lined up Safe Harbor Haulers to transport her. There are, in fact, companies that specialize exclusively in trucking boats cross-country. They have busy schedules and aren't cheap, but they earn every penny they're paid. I can at least vouch that Eric did, as I watched him pull into the marina while completely insane Seattle drivers swerved around a fully loaded tractor trailer because they weren't willing to slow down for 30 seconds and allow him to finish his turn. 

Because of scheduling complications, Blackthorn's hauling was set for the end of June. Jackie and Robin offered to come to Seattle and help us get Blackthorn set back up and ready to sail again. We could not have found better unofficial sailing godparents. We had just under two months in Seattle to sort out insurance, and look into registration, and find a liveaboard slip, and iron out countless other things that required attention. 

Our unofficial sailing godparents.


We found a liveaboard slip by continually checking Shilshole Bay Marina's sublease listings. We ended up with a 50 foot slip through the end of September, even though we only needed 40 feet. Beggars can't be choosers, and it turned out to be a blessing when it came to putting Blackthorn back together. In fact, we are currently subletting the slip of the very first person to have a lease with the marina. He says he's been here over 40 years, and I have no reason to doubt him. 

Getting registration required jumping through a few hoops and was complicated by the fact that the boat had to be imported. The people at Ballard Licensing ( a private company that is licensed to perform DMV operations) were helpful, friendly, available at times outside the normal work day, and their office was actually staffed to handle their customers in a reasonable time-frame. Just sayin' - they handle car stuff, too.

Insurance was not simple. Being new to boat ownership, with limited experience and an a-typical boat, we contacted numerous companies and got declined by most. Many refused to offer us the type of insurance we requested. Our policy actually came together in the 11th hour, as the boat was making its way through downtown Seattle. Fortunately, the hauler had abundant coverage in place for the actual transporting of the boat.

The boat actually made its way from Virginia to Seattle very quickly. Five days: coast to coast, sea to sea. It turns out that due to Blackthorn's beam (width) being just under 11 feet, it could be hauled day and night with no restrictions. This was both impressive and slightly panic-inducing. Originally, we expected it to arrive on July 4th and be unloaded on July 5th. Instead, it showed up on Friday, July 1st, while Zack was out of town for work. So, I took a half day on Friday and headed up on to the marina. 

Approaching the boatyard...

And making the turn!

There was a fair amount of adrenaline in my system as I waited for the truck to come into view of the marina. It was hard to believe that this was really happening - our home had just crossed an entire continent and was rolling right past were I stood.

The process of unloading a boat from a truck was impressive to watch and thankfully, very uneventful. Blackthorn's mast had been lowered, taken off, and set alongside the hull on the trailer. An enormous, specialized device called a Travel Lift, which is basically a large square frame on wheels with two slings, was driven over the trailer. The slings were carefully positioned, then pulled up, lifting the boat up off the trailer. The operator then carefully drives the entire thing around (in this case, using a little RC control panel) and lowers the boat onto some wooden blocks. Some stabilizing stands are set up next to the hull, the slings are released, and voila, you have a boat on the hard. 

So, just under a year after our epiphany in Poulsbo, we now had a boat of our own. Granted, it was sitting in a boatyard, effectively naked, with its mast and boom on a saw-horse, but it was ours, and our adventure was about to get underway in earnest.